Panel explores Watada debate

TACOMA - The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq violated international law, and 1st Lt. Ehren Watada was justified in refusing to deploy to Iraq, speakers told a community panel at a Citizens Hearing on Saturday.

"Lt. Watada was doing exactly what he should have been doing as a loyal, observant, obedient member of the U.S. armed forces," Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, told a crowd of about 350 at the Tacoma Campus of The Evergreen State College. The event is billed as the Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq and as an effort to "put the Iraq war on trial."

The hearings debating the Iraq war's legality continue today in response to a military judge's ruling that an Army officer cannot try to justify his refusal to deploy to Iraq by claiming that the war is illegal.

Watada attended the morning session Saturday and received a standing ovation. In brief remarks, he thanked the audience for its support, called the judge's decision "a travesty of justice" and told the crowd he hoped "that the truth can be brought out to the American people."

Watada, 28, will be tried Feb. 5 at Fort Lewis. He could face as much as six years in prison for his failure to join his brigade in Iraq last June and his outspoken attacks on the Bush administration's handling of the war.

Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and State Department official, said she resigned after 29 years of service when the U.S. invaded Iraq.

She said she wrote to Colin Powell in March 2003, warning him that going to war "was going to make the world more dangerous. ... As it turned out, I was right," she said.

The war is illegal, she said, because the U.S. acted without consent by the United Nations Security Council. Also, the military violated international law in its treatment of prisoners - the majority of whom were innocent - in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Iraq, she said.

"I do not believe the U.S. is being honest. I believe more people are being held in secret prisons," she said.

Speakers urged audience members to tell Congress they disapprove of the war and to show support for Watada at next month's trial.

"Unless we do act now, 50 years from now there will be an apology to Lt. Watada," said Benjamin Davis, an associate professor of law at the University of Toledo. "I think it's much more important that he receive justice now."

Watada is charged with missing movement after refusing to deploy with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The Army also proceeded with charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for statements he made opposing the war to journalists and at a veterans convention.

The News Tribune contributed to this report.

Diane Huber covers the city of Lacey for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-357-0204 or dhuber@theolympian.com. Hearing continues today

What: The Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq continues.

Where: The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus, 1210 Sixth Ave.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Featured: A Harvard law professor, an Iraqi journalist and human-rights advocate, Iraq war veterans and a member of Military Families Speak Out.

On the Web: www.wartribunal.org